This War is not Over
It is just beginning.
ISIS is not on its last legs. The monster is nowhere near dead.
The core of this Administration’s “strategy” against ISIS is a largely conventional military response inside Iraq in which Iraqi forces are retaking territory seized by ISIS and incorporated into the so-called Caliphate. In reality a very large portion of the forces moving into Western Iraq are Shia militia in league with the Iranians. These militia are pursuing an overtly sectarian agenda and perpetrating atrocities rivaling those of ISIS. Fallujah may have fallen. Mosul may fall in a few months. They may just as easily return to the control of ISIS next year when anger at Shia abuses and Iranian influence boils over. A fire not fully extinguished can reignite almost instantaneously.
Whatever happens in Iraq, the Administration still has no coherent strategy in Syria. The fight there is ultimately about the future of the Assad regime and what follows it. The Administration has ignored that “elephant in the room” from the beginning of its efforts, and consequently its policies have no hope of success. For the foreseeable future ISIS will enjoy a safehaven of sorts inside Syria in immediate proximity to Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.
While the Administration has pursued its ponderous policy of focusing on rebuilding the Iraqi military (again), ISIS has morphed and jumped ahead to a host of other areas. Already ISIS has declared provinces in nine countries outside of Iraq and Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Russia.
Great swathes of North Africa are either under ISIS control or plagued by increasing levels of sympathy to the cause. It is no accident that the single largest group of foreign fighters in the ranks of ISIS comes from Tunisia. Six thousand individuals from that nation alone have joined the terrorist organization. About the time that Mosul finally falls we may see the creation of another Caliphate in North Africa.
Finally, ISIS is doing an extraordinary job of spreading its message and its organization beyond the territory formally under its control. Recent attacks have occurred in Bangladesh, Baghdad, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, France and Florida among other places. While some of these attacks have been the work of lone actors, others have involved large organizations and extensive preparation.
A report last year by the Soufan Group estimated that roughly 30,000 foreign fighters from 86 nations had traveled to the Middle East to be trained by and fight with ISIS. Five thousand people from Europe alone are estimated to have gone to Syria for training. No matter what happens, many of those individuals are going to survive and live on to spread the pestilence elsewhere on the planet.
The technical capabilities and designs of the organization are increasing as well. At this stage ISIS has a highly evolved chemical weapons capability. It has interest in biological weapons as well and, based on news reports from Kenya, may have attempted to launch a bio weapons attack only a few months ago. ISIS operatives have also been shown conclusively to have worked on planning for assaults on nuclear power plants in the heart of Europe.
The end of nothing
In short, we are at the end of nothing. Our policy is not working. Continued insistence on adherence to the false narrative that this war is almost over and continued reliance upon time consuming and expensive efforts to forge conventional military responses to an unconventional foe will only prolong the conflict.
We need to respond to a nimble, adaptable enemy with aggressive efforts by intelligence and special operations forces to find the enemy, fix him in time and space and end him before he acts. We need to follow him into the back alleys and remote mountain ranges of the planet and crush him. We need to recognize that we are at grips with a fanatical foe with an expressly religious agenda and an apocalyptic word view and act accordingly.
This war is not over. It is just beginning.